The Club's beginnings were quite humble, with the first 28 members in 1853 being mostly men working in the British business and mercantile community, usually as clerks or "junior assistants". In the 1880s, however, membership had grown to almost 400 and was seen as a social feather in the cap, not only by the businessmen who founded the Club but also by the power-brokers and decision-makers in government. Presidents in the early days of the Club included several governors of the then Straits Settlements: Sir Cecil Clementi Smith (SCC President, 1883, Governor, 1887-1893), Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham (SCC President, 1902-1903, Governor, 1901-1904) and Sir Arthur Henderson Young (SCC President, 1909-1910, Governor, 1911-1920).
It was not all cricket on the Padang. A popular event almost up to World War I was the SCC Annual Sports and the SCC Athletic Sports were an integral part of this programme up to 1900. Football of both sorts, soccer and rugby, was established in Singapore in the 1880s, while an annual tennis tournament was initiated in 1875. Hockey arrived early in Singapore, in 1892, considering that the rules of the game had been established in Britain only in 1849 and the English Hockey Association established only in 1886. Billiards was no doubt played at the Club, but it is seldom mentioned in existing records. Lawn bowls began at the Club in the 1870s and the tournaments were held regularly from 1898.
Membership of the Club had reached 878 by 1914. World War I affected Singapore sports badly (although the crown colony was not directly involved in the conflict) and the supply of sporting "manpower" was sharply reduced. Cricket suffered in particular and in 1922 the Club was unable to make up a full team to send to play in Hong Kong. Morale must have been improved by the visit, in 1927, of Charles Gordon Macartney and his Australian cricket XI. Macartney's team, which included eight Test cricketers, actually lost one match, against Malaya. Another major cricketing event occurred 10 years later, in 1937 – a three-day match by Malaya versus Sir Julien Cahn's XI, the first English cricket team to visit Malaya or the Singapore Cricket Club.
On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese and most Europeans who had not escaped were interned. The Club was closed for the duration of the war. Even after Singapore was liberated, in 1945, it was clear that life in the crown colony would never be the same again. Elections in 1959 were won easily by Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party, which proceeded to form a strong majority government in a self-governing Singapore. It was reported that the new government was considering taking back the Padang from its lessees, the Singapore Cricket Club and the Singapore Recreation Club. In the event this did not happen, but the government did insist, in 1962, that all clubs in Singapore maintain at least 50 per cent Singaporean membership.
Prime Minister Lee made his first official appearance at the Club in 1963, when his wife presented the Lee Kuan Yew Shield to the Club's ladies' hockey team. He returned in 1970 to accept the honorary title of "Visitor" to the Club.